Ahead of tomorrow’s third and final Test, the conjecture surrounding England’s team selection is mostly focussed on whether Adil Rashid will come into the side to offer a second spinner, or whether Jonathan Trott may see his return at the top of the order cut short.
These positions are rightly being debated; I would not be at all against Rashid coming into the side. Bringing him to the Caribbean to carry drinks seems a bit of a fool’s errand, but then that is rather the ECB’s style. Rashid would certainly bring some vibrancy and variety to the England attack, but it being the final test, and with England 1-0 up, I can see the reasoning in not picking him in Barbados.
Trott is a different case for me, as much as I would love to see Lyth given a go ahead of a congested period of Test cricket, Trott has done just enough to deserve another go in the third test to my mind. Although 1 half century in 4 innings is certainly not form to write home about, he is showing some signs that his game may be piecing back together. Let’s not forget that, alongside beleaguered skipper Alastair Cook, he put on the first 100 opening partnership for England in the last two years at Grenada.
I would only fully advocate one change for the Barbados Test, and that is a straight swap between Chris Jordan and Liam Plunkett. Jordan has performed averagely so far on this tour, and with modest returns; his 5 wickets have cost 45.6 apiece thus far, his place must surely be called into question. I think that Jordan has a good future ahead of him as an England player, and could more than do a job in the Test side over the next few years. But with the already mentioned busy schedule, it leaves England with two opposing concerns. On the one hand, they will be worried that over playing certain players will leave them jaded come the tour to the UAE and South Africa late in the year, but they may also be in the position whereby they have such a settled side that if a replacement is needed, they are not ready for the rigours of Test cricket.
Jordan, Plunkett, Stokes, and the currently injured Chris Woakes are a part of England’s battery of back-up quicks, alongside Durham seamer Mark Wood who is also part of the touring party. Plunkett will be needed this summer; I have no doubt about that. As Australia charge in with Johnson, Star, Cummins and Harris, England will need to return the barrage. Whilst Broad and Stokes both have the potential to do so, only Plunkett has the ability to consistently bowl up and above 90 mph. His selection becomes even more tempting with Ben Stokes in the side. Stokes is able to bowl as a fourth seamer, and bowl between 10-15 overs an innings, and this will allow Cook to utilise Plunkett in short spells. In 4 or 5 over bursts Plunkett has the ability to match the Australian firepower and give England a fighting chance in a series they will surely enter as underdogs.
Aside from the long-term benefits of giving Plunkett a run out in Bridgetown, there are also short-term reasons relating to this Test. As I have mentioned, Plunkett has the ability to bowl seriously fast, and also the skill to bowl a ‘heavy’ ball. His battering length at just short a ‘good length’ should give the West Indies top order something to fret over. Kraigg Brathwaite made a good century in Grenada, but on more than one occasion this series he has been dismissed from a short ball; others have similar misgivings. Plunkett’s natural assets, allied to the Kensington Oval pitch, may just give England the incisiveness they require to once again take 20 wickets, and to wrap up the series in the process. By all accounts, the pitch looks set to offer assistance to the bowler who can bend his back and bowl with some real pace. It also looks shiny, hard, and great for batting.
England will need plenty of variety to prise another victory on this tour characterised by slow pitches, and Plunkett offers much more in comparison with Jordan. Both bowlers have their assets, and England need to learn that ‘horses for courses’ is not always a dangerous policy.